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Product Sketch: The New Corp Times
Make history. Period.
“They say, ‘Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.’ And that may be true, but Communication was prepping the meal before Culture even woke up.”
Janet Silverman sits across from me in an austere German Village condo. An aged copy of Common Sense claims the bare wall behind her. We are discussing Period, her new tech venture that bills itself as a “strategic system of record”.
Silverman has a simpler description: “It’s a newspaper.”
Period’s technical premise is simple: employees submit articles, an editor sifts through and prioritizes them, then Period publishes the final product. For an extra fee, a hard copy is delivered to employees’ doorsteps.
A former journalist, Silverman sees hope for the medium in modern business. “The free press created the free world by changing how information flowed,” she explains. “Journalism was a calling: The reporter shining light in dark corners, the editor curating a balanced portrait of the community each day. But for most people in 2022, communities are defined by objectives, not geography. The 21st-century business is as complex a society as the 19th-century city.”
Remote-first companies have been eager early adopters. For some, Period replaces the cultural grounding that used to take place in person. “Skimming the news becomes a ritual for many employees,” Silverman says. “It’s a time-tested method for switching contexts. The periodical provides a sense of rhythm, a shared beat in an asynchronous world.”
Despite its old-school trappings, Period has plenty of bells and whistles. Forms, reports, and interactive widgets can be embedded from other applications, allowing contributors to balance automation and editorializing.
“No one should be copy-pasting weekly reporting numbers in 2022,” Silverman says. “It’s not only a waste of time, it fractures the information flow. At the same time, it’s critical that what is published is made permanent." Period solves that challenge by snapshotting everything — the raw data, the narrative, and yes, the mistakes — at publication time.
The mainstay publication elevates other communication fora as well. Pivotal updates are dredged from the mires of Slack and email. Knowledge bases like Confluent and Notion store persistent artifacts, not progress reports. Dashboards and analyses debut with a front-page splash, alongside the strategic narrative.
“Employee attention is the scarcest resource a company has,” Silverman says. “Yet CEOs don’t give a second thought to blasting out ad hoc emails or asking teams to dump information into a disorganized wiki. No — you need to have talented, thoughtful people constructing a shared community narrative.”
Sometimes it’s celebrating a win. Sometimes it’s reflecting on a setback. “Sometimes,” Silverman says, “it’s just finding out what crazy **** Doug in engineering will say next.”
The choice of editor determines the success or failure of the product implementation, according to Silverman. The ideal person straddles a fine line between prophet and promoter — courageous enough to publish against the status quo but invested enough to cultivate the community.
Silverman says she’s found the perfect farm team: analysts.
“Data analysts are a 21st-century techno-journalist,” Silverman explains. “They’re scrappy and see past bull****. They have this dogged focus on piecing together the whole story, even when the evidence is messy. And most importantly, they can’t stay quiet once they’ve found a problem.”
Brenn Chancell, chief analytics officer at Mowed, an autonomous lawnmower company, is one such analyst-turned-editor. Her story is typical of Period’s most successful editors: an early data hire, she built out pipelines and reports and became a trusted ally across the business. As the company expanded, she and her team became a critical knowledge hub.
“I had all of this history in my brain,” Chancell says. “Not just the tactical knowledge, but the story. The context. What it felt like to be at the company at that time. The anxieties we faced, where we spent our time. Period has given me a means of recording that ‘zeitgeist’ in a way that other communication channels haven’t been able to.”
Most teams start their publication by consolidating weekly analytics reports into a Period publication. The lead analyst contextualizes the numbers with a brief report and closes with a timely meme — “Meme density is a huge indicator of customer retention,” says Silverman. After a few publications, readers realize the possibilities.
It took only three weeks for her publication, Cutting Grass, to turn into a company institution. “In that third issue, one of our analysts wrote up a story that traced a rise in sensor failures to a manufacturing plant in Kansas. Let’s just say there was manure involved. People loved the story. They loved the fact that the data was public, the players accessible, the story permanent. Folks began requesting all sorts of new articles.”
Since then, Period has become the primary way Mowed announces new initiatives, updates, and progress reports. Chancell says it has turned her team of analysts from disposable partners into coveted allies. “Other teams proactively ask us how to frame problems and quantify impact because they know we are going to write on it. And look, we’re always fair — but we are honest. If there’s no evidence the project is working, we call it out.”
The best part, according to Chancell, is that she no longer begs people to look at the data. “I place the best charts next to Wordle,” she says.
While news, analysis, and argument comprise the majority of content written, the most effective teams have a secret weapon: lore.
“Managers compulsively wrap everything in objectivity. Plans, reports, updates, agendas, objectives, results, metrics, data. It’s ****ing boring as ****,” Silverman says. “In practice, the only unique thing a company has is culture. What we’ve seen is that great publications create space to share the subjective experience of working there, whether it’s funny or embarrassing — as long as it’s authentic.”
Lore is an emerging concept in management science. Unlike top-down tools like “North Stars” and “Core Values”, lore emerges out of the realities of the organization. Silverman shares the example of Google’s former “Don’t Be Evil” motto. Everyone outside Google knew it, but its origin story — the coffee shop, the conversation, the actors, the backdrop — was internal lore transmitted from employee to employee through storytelling.
“Lore is where ideas meet actions meet humans,” Silverman says. “It’s not just the decisions that get made, but the context and attitudes of those decisions. One can build a sloppy product, for example, either because they’re sloppy artisans or because they are so dedicated to moving fast, they don’t refine it. Lore helps new employees understand the difference.”
Period teaches prospective editors the ins and outs of cultivating lore during onboarding. “The best you can do is to nurture it. Great editors find those moments that represent turning points and memorialize them. Those moments show future teammates how the culture of the past influenced the reality of the present. Lorecrafters make legends.”
Being a Period editor is not all detective stories and comic strips. They must occasionally push boundaries for the betterment of the company.
“I have been very careful not to let Cutting Grass become a list of department updates or an internal instrument of propaganda,” Chancell says. “One time, when our employee turnover increased by 10% in a quarter, I had an analyst do some exit interviews outside of the standard HR process. The executive team didn’t like the idea — they were scared. I was too, to be honest. But we were able to surface a lot of concerns that resonated with the average employee. It catalyzed change.”
It’s another reason Silverman identifies with newspaper tradition. “I see Period as the fourth estate, but for private enterprise. You have executives, middle management, and individual contributors. Information — presented in a transparent, prioritized, thoughtful manner — is the best way to gain alignment or to mediate conflict between these classes.”
Critics say subjecting the company to internal inquiry is fraught with danger. Certain conversations, like the organization of labor or analyzing salaries of individuals, are either regulated or present ethical concerns. Silverman dismisses most of these objections as cowardice: “The editorial team absolutely has to be principled. But most organizations are already beset by these challenges — they’re just addressing them in a thoughtless, ad hoc way.”
Silverman’s vision is for employees to feel more ownership over the organizations they spend much of their time working for. “The 21st-century company is a powerful actor. Many companies wield more economic power than whole nations, and they’re willing to use it. But these companies are just collections of people. Their decisions are human decisions.”
“Every community has a voice,” Silverman says. “The real question is what leaders do with it. Cowards try to silence it. Fools try to ignore it. I believe the leaders of the next set of generational companies will create a space for it.”